Denise Carson, MS, is an award-winning author of the book, Parting Ways, and expert in new end-of-life care practices. She earned a Masters of Science in Journalism from Columbia University in New York. For more than a decade, she interviewed hundreds of people sharing their life stories for the Los Angeles, Times, Orange County Register and top health care organizations including University of California, Los Angeles, University of California, Irvine and Hospice Care of the West. She harnesses the power of story to immerse readers on the frontlines of health care from the operating rooms beside neurosurgeons at UCLA to the hospice bedside with patients and families in their homes. This takes heart, compassion and a sharp ability to listen and observe. She has worked with patients, families, hospice caregivers and communities to create new practices that invite acceptance, familial healing and celebration to a traditionally alienated stage of life. Carson wrote a column for the Orange County Register, featuring families and hospices rewriting how we live in life’s final chapter. Carson is sought out by the media for expert interviews on end of life and grief, quoted in the New York Times, Kiplinger, HBO and other media outlets.
While researching her book Parting Ways published by University of California Press, Carson discovered life review video, living wake, vigil, and last wish celebrations changed the way patients and families experienced hospice and the end of life. She transformed the book research into a pioneering program focused on video recording and celebrating the life stories of hospice patients, which earned an award from the California Hospice and Palliative Care Association for Outstanding Achievement in Advancing Hospice and Palliative Care. The award recognizes an individual and innovative hospice program that is a model for other hospices and end-of-life care providers. The book, Parting Ways, also led to creating a hospice resource blog, OurLifeCelebrations.com and working with HBO on a documentary about the End-of-Life Revolution in America.
She collaborated with Jay Gianukos, an award-winning life story documentary filmmaker, to grow the life review video program for Hospice Care of the West. Carson and Gianukos created and led Celebration a bi-monthly gathering that united the hospice care nurses, palliative care physicians, spiritual care coordinators, home health aides and hospice volunteers. Celebration sparked a culture and community that revived and inspired the hospice team to provide exceptional patient care, which in turn grew the hospice.
Carson is currently researching and writing the book, “Invisible Wounds: Healing the Roots of Generational Trauma in the Body,” with Gina Calderone, MPT, physical and energetic therapist and founder of Centripetal Force Studio. The book brings forth a method for identifying and healing unresolved grief and trauma radiating chronic pain, addiction and generational disease in the body. At Centripetal Force Studio, Denise uses a life review interview technique to compassionately guide patients to reflect on their life experiences to find the emotional and generational root story of pain, addiction and disease.
The summer of 1999, I was working for Disney in Paris, France when my mother told me about the terminal cancer. The same disease that had taken my father’s life was on move in her body. I knew well how this story ended. We argued about my return. She wanted me to stay. I wanted to go home. I insisted. Then she paused, in her resolute British accent, she said,
“If you come home, I want you to interview me on our down time together…you can write my life story.”
Her request turned out to be the seed to my book Parting Ways. She revealed herself to me in our interviews. She shared her innermost fears, regrets, last wishes and her hopes and dreams for me. My mother trusted me to care for her and entrusted me to tell her story.
That gift of intimacy given in the last months, days and hours of her life helped me to gain a greater understanding of the fragility and force of people’s needs, wants and desires at the end of life. I used that bestowed wisdom and personal knowledge to guide me in discovering a new way to accompany loved ones on this journey to the last breath. After losing my mother, I took a year out to backpack around the world and learn about other people, cultures and religions. And in many ways, the traveling helped me to contextualize our experiences as Americans living and dying in such a culturally porous country where cultural rituals are borrowed and personalized. I believe these personal experiences invited me into the lives and living rooms of families in their most intimate and vulnerable stages of life. I traveled from the East to West coasts to report what I discovered to be an “End-of-Life Revolution” happening all across America.